Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Super Duper Bowl

I thought no American experience would be complete without watching a Superbowl game, so I drove down and joined some Mason buds, had some food, beer, and watched the game. I was cheering for the Bears and they were doing well in the first half, but then lost. I had no money on the game, so I really didn't care actually.

What really started to bother me though, was the cigarette smoke. Everyone at the table next to us was smoking and it was really getting to me, having sinusitis and all. I started to miss home and the no smoking bylaw quite a bit.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Did someone get the number of that truck?

Friday January 26
My third work week complete and I once again go to Orient Lodge for their meeting and afterward catch up with a young Mason still in college at Washburn University here in town. I find out he's also an active member of the local Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter, so although I'm not a K-Sig, but a Deke (Delta Kappa Epsilon), we had a lot in common to talk about -- parties mainly. So we go for a beer at Boss Hawgs BBQ and chat, I head home to get out of the monkey suit and met up with him at Jeremiah Bullfrogs where it was completely packed and I found out where all the women go (finally).

Saturday January 27
The next day I head out to KC to meet up with my new bud Chasmo and another Mason brother by the nickname of "The Pontiff". We prime up a bit, go for steaks once again, and head to a bar called The Roxy. I thought it must be good because The Roxy in Vancouver is my fav bar there. Well, it was a shithole as far as bars I'm used to. Nonetheless, the band took the stage and once again, the music totally kicked ass. They played quite a bit of Zeppelin, but the singer had his own twist on the style, which was really refreshing to listen to.

After talking about the differences between Canadian and American Masonry with the bros, we get into the shots, as a hot waitress kept pimping 'em to us and we simply couldn't resist. I then befriend the folks at the table next to us, buy them a round of Slippery Nipples, and have them toast "To Canada, eh!"

After buying him a drink too, the band singer comes over and we talk music, Zep, and what not. Really cool guy.

Next thing you know we're in a gas station store trying to buy more beer, but they wouldn't let us--I guess it's a law or something. Anyway, we end up at this dudes house, where he has a fully stocked bar, keggerator with Bud on tap, and ... look out ... a karaoke machine. There was a woman amongst us who hailed from Chicago, so that's what I called her after she kept beckoning me as "Hey Canada, come over here!" So I sing some ABBA, my friends get shot down, I go outside in a stupour, slip on ice, scrape my hand, and we mosy on our way back to Chasmo's where I passout, waking up the next day, and dreading, absolutely dreading the drive back to Topechka. But I made it. Sunday was a write off. Had a blast though.

Like I always say, the best way to know someone is to both get hit by a truck together.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

First Lodge meeting

After a couple weeks, I thought it was time that I go check out one of the Masonic lodges in the area that I had emailed and received a reply from. Good ol' Orient Lodge #51. The lodge building looked like it was built in the 60's or 70's and it was also home to the local Scottish Rite valley. With suit on and apron in hand, I walked in and an older lady beckoned me, to which I asked to see the name of the gentleman who replied to my request to visit.

As it turns out, it was his birthday. (I later hear in passing that he fought in the battle of the Pacific in WWII). So I meet him and the other brethren. The women in the kitchen came out and gave me a meat and potatoes plate, which I gobbled up before the lodge meeting.

The lodge room is large and also has a big stage and has oval seating for at least 250. Carpet abound, but set up like a typical lodge. It was a short meeting and I was introduced. Afterward, the secretary took me to his office and he gave me a silk Masonic tie, a lodge embroidered sweatshirt, a ritual book, and a lodge history book. I then showed him on the computer where I'm from. One of the nicest men I've ever met and was amazed at the hospitality and warm welcome.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

First weekend

First Friday

On the night of Friday Jan. 11th, my co-worker and I did a little crawl around Topeka -- comedy night at Jeremiah Bullfrog's where the chicken wings were awesome and where we saw an up and comer comedian who was pretty darn funny. I bought his DVD for good karma because, I liked the show, it was good. Then we were going to check out a live band, but the bar they were playing in looked a bit rough for our tastes, so we drove on by. Being the Newfie she is, she suggested we head to a local Irish pub, to which I obliged. We had some food and that's when I discovered Rich Stevenson, also known as "The Irish Rebel".

Rich has a slight southern accent but can sound Irish on a dime. He played a pile of Irish songs on his Gibson acoustic guitar. My co-worker knew most of the songs, probably sings them in her sleep, but I knew maybe two of them, reminiscing about my days at the Rose n Crown in Edmonton singing along with Don Johnston (not the Miami Vice guy) and the "All Virgin Choir" (the regular patrons who sat around his make-shift grand piano).

Rich then pulled out what looked like bagpipes but without the blowing and it was higher pitched. The lonely distant sounds emanating from this beautiful traditional instrument reminded me of a few Braveheart and Titanic scenes, but as this Irish Rebel moved his fingers along, the sound waves were becoming unique and personal to me--a consistent familiar melody but a new song to hold onto. In listening, the music got me a little choked up, thinking about home and being far from it, but excited in not knowing who I'd meet, much like my grandfather did when he left Ukraine in his 20's and immigrated to Canada, not knowing a word of English, or knowing anyone. How scary that must have been. My current trip can't even compare.

Upon leaving the pub, Rich introduced himself to us and we mentioned we were from Canada. He was very friendly and asked us to return sometime soon. "Soon" for me would be three weeks later on my own as my co-worker headed back to Newfoundland in a week.

First Saturday

First Saturday Prior to arriving, I had made arrangements with a fellow Mason who lives in Kansas City (KC), and who I've conversed with on an online Masonic community since a couple years ago. I drove into town in the afternoon and he had invited several of his lodge brothers, including the Grand Secretary and Assistant Grand Secretary of Kansas. We had a few beers and all headed out for dinner, to which I ordered, yep, you guess it, KC strip! Upon meeting my fellow Mason in person, I knew right away that we'd be close friends. Although only a few years older, we have a tonne in common, with our political, religious, and philosophical views pretty much in synch. We own many of the same Masonic books so I knew we'd have lots to talk about. Newly single, I also knew he'd be a partner in crime on nights on the town.

After dinner, a few of us headed to a local bar where a live band was playing and where they had the largest beer selection I had ever seen. Too bad they didn't carry Big Rock though. For Canadian beers, these American bars are skimpy and usually only carry Labatt (oooh). But in knowing some of our excellent beers like Big Rock and Alexander Keith's, the Americans probably don't want to feel inferior. Don't get me wrong, there's some good beers like ESB, but this Boulevard beer they rant about here isn't that great--in fact, I think it kind of sucks. I told our waitress, who looked exactly like an old friend of mine in Edmonton, that they need more Canadian beers like Keith's, Traditional, and Grasshopper. I'm sure they got right on that.

I dropped my friend off at home and then headed home myself, knowing that I would return to KC for further frivolity.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

First stint in Kansas


I arrived by plane and car January 8, 2007. With flight delays in Edmonton, it turned out to be a long day. Finally arriving at the Kansas City airport (KCI), I waited for the Dollar rental shuttle. And waited. And waited. Finally it arrived. I almost felt "stuck" in nowhereland, like in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles". I murmured to myself, "What the hell am I doing here?" Then thought of that Blue Rodeo song "And I wonder what I am I doin' here" which stuck in my head through the drive to the car rental lot.

I got in the Sebring rental and popped in my familiar Yes music compliation. The hour or so drive in a comfortable Sebring from the Kansas City airport to Topeka was dark and a bit scary because I had no idea where I was going other than road signs which led me to Topeka. I was amazed at the "Night Driver" style Kansas Turnpike and how fast some of the turns were, but it was fun, knowing that I would frequent this winding and hilly snake. I looked forward to driving it in the daylight.

I arrive in Topeka at my apartment to which it took me a few minutes to follow the instructions I was given to take the key out of the keybox. I got in and called my co-worker to let her know I got into town, although late. My furnished apartment is humble, yet has everything I need, and suitable for entertaining if need be. I knew I'd be doing a lot of cooking for myself, which I was excited about.

First Day

My co-worker picked me up in the morning from her hotel, as she only had a couple weeks left, until I fully took over. Seeing Topeka for the first time in daylight was like getting a snapshot in time, that many of the houses on this road are numerous and old, yet characteristic of middle America.

The people at work are very friendly and pleasant and I knew I would be comfortable here. It reminded me a lot of my last onsite contract at an energy company, but perhaps not as high-paced.

My co-worker and I had dinner at Chili's, which in my opinion, has the best ribs in the world.

Meet-Up with the Director

The first I was there, I found out that the director of our division was in KC on the Thursday night, so we arranged to drive back to meet him up for dinner and drinks. On our way to see him, we got a bit lost in KC, and took a wrong turn, ending up in what could be called "the hood". I say that because I see a guy on his porch drinking booze out of a bag. We quickly turned around and then a few blocks back where we came from, there were a few police cars at a store with their sirens on. Somethin' happ'nd in da hood.

We managed to weave back in the direction of downtown KC, and found the hotel. Downtown KC reminded me of Calgary--barren, with quality box-like architecture and like Edmonton with a nostalgic warehouse district.

The three of us headed to a local sports bar for some delicious 16oz Kansas City striploin (KC strip) which was on sale for $9. This was my first taste of the infamous steak and I can say, it was one of the best steaks I've ever had.

After that, we looked at a tourist map and I suggested a pub a few blocks away where we found a jazz/blues piano/harmonica duo playing some real cool sounds. This was my first taste of the culture here and with great steaks and soulful music, I was in love.